Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

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Dull

September 27, 2007

Dull. As in dull kids. And what to do with them.

From Jerry Pournelle’s blog (the original blog, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!) (Go to Friday):

Rich families can send their kids to good schools. That means that even bright normal kids from wealthy families have a chance to learn more than the basic minimums.

Really bright kids from less wealthy families have to go to public schools so they get to pay a horrible tax: they are put into classrooms where the teacher is far more concerned with getting the very dull, dull, and dull normal kids to pass a test than in teaching bright kids anything at all. The bright ones won’t be left behind.

So the bright kids put up with discipline problems, disruptions, special ed kids who have been mainstreamed, and a general lack of teacher time; in exchange they get all the benefits of diversity. Odd, but most of those who can escape diversity choose to do so.

But I am sure that this is a dangerous way to talk. It will not be all that long before there is a movement to jail Diversity Deniers.

In 1983 Glenn T. Seaborg as Chair of the National Commission on Education concluded that if a foreign government had imposed our system of public education on the United States we would rightly consider it an act of war.

It has not become better since then; and No Child Left Behind has made it even worse. Diversity and Mainstreaming are disastrous. Yes, yes: it’s probably better for at least some of the very dull, dull, and handicapped kids to be mainstreamed. But the cost of that is to neglect the bright ones.

Wealth and private schools have given us some reprieves here. Teachers understand the situation and send their kids to private schools when possible. But any bright normal kid born to a poor family is pretty well doomed to learn diversity without learning a lot more.

Whether we can sustain a First World economy with an education system indistinguishable from an act of war against the people of the United States is a very interesting experiment; but haven’t we run it long enough?

Couldn’t agree more. If I had kids, I’d do my damndest to send them to private school.

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Tragedy

April 16, 2007

(Updated below) 

On so many levels, what’s happened in Virginia is a tragedy. And with such tragedies, there is an instant – knee jerk, even – response by otherwise smart, but not so wise people, as to to how to prevent these things from happening again.

Unfortunately, psychopaths will be pyschopaths. If someone wants to kill people, they’ll find a way. Guns, knives, sharpened bamboo sticks, they’ll find a way.

There are a couple of things that strike me as a teacher.

The first is how stupidly easy it is to spot these people when they’re our students. The other is what I’d do were I presented with a psychopath in my school.

Predictability. We’ve all had them; a student who we just know no good will come of. You just see pure evil in their eyes. Sometimes you can quantify it, and convince administration to bounce them somewhere else, so that at the very least, they don’t corrupt your current crop of kiddies. At the worst, no one believes you (other than your teaching colleagues) and you have to find a vcery personal way to cope with the little cretin.

For me, an mano-a-mano talk, and a “don’t fuck with me or my class, and you’ll be fine” denoument usually works. But when push comes to shove, and nothing else works, I keep bouncing him (it’s a him 90% of the time) to the office. I do have a bad attitude, after all.

What kinds of kids are these? Well one, I remember, was a black kid who everyone thought was just misunderstood. Finally, after much cajoling, I got our guidance/resource teacher to talk to him. She (the resource teacher) was a youngish, pretty gal, who lasted five minutes, before he was punted to a system school. With devilish grin, he asked her if she’d ever had a “chocolate milkshake”. She knew exactly what he had meant. He was gone the next day.

You can recognize these kids easily. It’s a sad situation when the best thing you can do is send them away, so that they don’t damage your immediate surroundings. We must be able to do something preventative. We must have some other program or situation or plan to deal with these kinds of kids.

But no, it’s our job as a teacher to deal with them. I don’t know about you all, but they’ve neither trained me enough, nor pay me enough to do that job. Call it mission creep.

I actually keep a list of the names of such students. I fully expect to see their names in the news at some point. I’m not lookingg forward to that.

The second thing that comes to mind from this, and previous such events, is what I’d do if faced with a gun wielding gunman. Or what I’d counsel my students to do.

The official line is play passive when faced with a threatening, armed person. Do what you’re told to do, don’t bring attention to yourself. If you follow orders, you’ll be fine.

Sadly, experience now shows that this will not be the case. What I want to tell my kids is this: when faced with someone with a gun, fight back. Charge the assailant, throw things, make noise, and mob the bad guy. Bring him down, hold him down.

It’s what I want to tell my students (grades 8 and 9), but sadly I cannot. I expect in my email tomorrow morning a missive from the big heads downtown reminding us about lockdown procedures. Sit tight. Wait for help to come.

Not bloody likely. I’m fighting for my life.

And in the meantime, in Calgary, police have arrested a junior high student from St. Gregory School for uttering “Colombine like threats”. He was turned in by his parents. Sadly, he was also released back into their custody, on bail. Whatever that means for a 14 year old.

Update

Matthew Good is a Vancouver based singer songwriter. Although I’m not a big fan of his music, he runs a fairly level headed little blog, commenting on human rights issues, the “wars on terror”, and suchlike. He makes a good point in this post: 32 is a tragic number, but so is 176.  That’s how many civilian Iraqis were murdered last Saturday in Bagdad.

Where’s the hue and cry, the (inter)national media, the tearful tributes, the idiot new hounds waxing poetic?

No where. And yesterday, a middle class, popular, and rather smart white kid in my class brings up the same point. I had to quell a class rebellion as they just about lynched him.

Open-mindedness, people.  Open-mindednes.

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School fees, part un

February 27, 2007

I fear I’m about to get into an argument. It will be my first, so I’m just all giddy with excitement.

On trash talk radio this afternoon, the president of Parents for Public Education, Dennis Locking, came on and talked about the school fees issue.

For all of you who mightn’t be familiar with how things work in Alberta, I’ll explicate a bit before we get into the issues involved (for there are many):

Public education is funded by the province, which allocates money to school boards in a manner which can only be described as bistromathematics; there is no rhyme, and very little reason to it. It’s not related to the educational portion of property taxes, it’s not based on any per-capita value, and it certainly isn’t based on anything resembling logic.

It does seem to sway with the whim of our provincial government, however.

School boards allocate their budget to individual schools largely on a per-capita basis, with bonuses for any coded (at risk) students. But from this lump sum (the core school budget) there are clawbacks. For example, schools are obliged to pay the board back for such things as technology support and excess teacher sick days.

Yep, you heard that right: if the school blows the sub budget, then the individual school is responsible for paying substitute teachers. This happened to us (my school) a few years ago. A teacher had a chronic health condition, which required one or two sick days a week, and which, for some reason, was not being covered by long term disability. Our school had to fork out for it.

The pool of money a school has to work with is called the decentralized budget, and it amounts to a hundred or two thousand dollars, depending on the size of the school.

From this, schools pay for lunch room supervisors (which they are required to hire by the board), office supplies, an admin secretary (or fraction thereof), the photocopier (or two or three), computers, textbooks, paper, repairs for little things, insurance premiums for big things (like vandalism), school desks, white board replacements, and a myriad of other little pidly things.

Trust me on this; $160 000 sounds like a lot, but doesn’t go far enough.

To supplement this, schools are authorized to collect supplementary fees from every student. For example, at junior high (which is where I’m currently teaching), these amount to:

  • Instructional Resource Fee – $105
  • Refundable Security Deposit – $50
  • Bus Fees – $145
  • Band Instrument Rental – $65
  • Lunch Activity Fee – $30

The $30 incidental fees charged by schools last year were eliminated this year.

Note that there is no “school supplies fee” or “photocopy fee”

The supplementary resource fee covers materials that teachers use on behalf of students. Things like food for the Foods CTS option, photocopying student materials, maintaining computers, trifolds for student presentations, poster board for other student presentations, and the like.

It’s not for student photocopy use (which is why we charge students for use of the photcopier) or pencils or notebooks.

The $50 caution fee gets refunded to students if their lockers have not been damaged, their locks were returned, and there’s not undue damage to textbooks.

There are many problems with this system of supplementary fees, not the least of which being that parents with two kids in school could be paying six or seven hundred dollars of fees in September.

That places an undue stress on parents, and makes teachers and schools out aqs being the bad guys in the equation.

The simple solution is not so simple. It’s two-fold, in fact. School boards need to fund schools properly. And to do that, the Province needs to fund school boards properly. Until they do that, it’s no use bitching to teachers.

You gets what you votes for.

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Cojones

February 4, 2007

Man, I wish I had the cojones to do this.

I’ve certainly had the opportunity to, and it looks like this: the school resource teacher (an admin position tasked with handling special needs students, amlong other things) comes to my class (interupting it) and asks me to fill out a six or eight page student assessment form.

See, little Dorothy isn’t doing so well. She’s lazy, but mom thinks she just needs a little love and understanding. Nothing that a little educational coding can’t help with.

Here’s what happened to IB a Math Teacher:

Screw you.

I know that a mother of a kid is upset that her kid isn’t doing as well in school as she thinks he can and needs an excuse to get extra help in college…

But, do you have to send me a form with nearly 200 questions on it to fill out to make your job easier? Have I ever asked for a survey from you so that I can “diagnose” his math abilities? Do you think that my caseload of 175 kids every day is less than yours, and I can set aside time to fill out this out? You have a secretary, why not send her to school with this kid and have her answer these questions?

And here’s what he did:

Here’s something you should consider…if you ever have to put a 63¢ stamp on the return envelope because the post office won’t deliver it with a 39¢ one, then don’t even bother asking. If I’m going to take the hour to do it, then I’m charging you what I think I’m worth for an extra hour after a ten hour day.

In the 39¢ envelope I’ve sent is a letter that explains my fee for the work…$75 for this information that you want. If you agree, please approve it, enclose a check, and I’ll get your form back to you by your return date so that you can diagnose this kid with something with my data for twice as much.

Now that takes balls. I’m pretty sure I’d get fired if I did that.